In my memory, Tom downplayed it when we were planning what to do with our limited time in London. “Oh, while we’re at Camden Market, there’s a food market we should check out,” he said. “I really liked it. Lots of stuff there.”
Like with theater, live music, and restaurants that aren’t centered around steak, travel is an area where I take very little prodding to be interested. “I heard it was good-” you might start to say to me, only to find yourself interrupted by a quick, “Right, when can you go? Next week? How’s Thursday?” From day to day, I’m discriminating about what I occupy myself with, and I think often of my own mortality when deciding if something is actually worth my time. But by trusting the suggestions of friends and other people I love, I see stuff that my introvert self might otherwise skip, opting instead to read in bed for another couple of hours.
So my response was a quick “sure” with little elaboration. One more entry for the list. Sounds good, let’s do things. Fewer questions mean more surprises later.
I first went to Camden Market with my mom during the very brief time we were there in late June 2000. Our life in Florida had not yet happened, so my mom was still pretty easily freaked out by anything reading as “weird.” These same things were basically my nourishment throughout high school, so it was an interesting time for us to know each other, and an even more interesting time for us to be travel companions in Europe. (A very strange walk through Amsterdam’s red light district came a couple weeks later as the trip was coming to an end. A lot of tense silence and nervous giggling.)
We got there just before the end of the business day, and I remember the closing stalls having an even fuller rainbow of Dr. Marten’s than they do now. I managed to score a £5 green glass necklace that is still among my favorites, now a relic of a kinder exchange rate. We had time for just a few Mohawks and a couple aggressive panhandlers with accents our Midwestern ears could barely understand, and then we were back on the tube, headed back to central London to soak up what we could before getting swept up onto our multicity bus tour.
So I was eager to see it again and more fully, and the promise of FOOD* was just extra enticement.
If I had not spent part of the previous evening frantically looking for ok-enough clothes in a train station-slash-shopping center (the better to dress myself in the absence of my checked bag), I might’ve been more inclined to pick up a cute, cheap dress or dig deeper into the vintagey t-shirts. But that bird had flown, and so I half-assedly windowshopped until we got to the food market.
I think I need to go full-on h1 for this. Stay with me.
Ok, so. Here is a partial list of what we found there, in an almost unbearably quaint, almost unbearably stuffed space full of food stalls.
- Massive pans of paella
- Philly cheesesteaks**
- Falafel with ingredients plucked from a dozen beautifully arrayed wooden bowls
- Fish sandwiches
- Everything ever, possibly
I say that because, due to crowds and my own hunger, I had to give up aggressive exploration after a bit and pick… something.
I chose wisely.
I opted for the Trout Pout, and I spent several entranced minutes watching the fellow running the stand meticulously put together my lunch. The fish went on a small stove with raised grill lines, the fries were fried again to be fresh and warm, and a perfect little cucumber salad was nestled next to the sandwich. He was so deliberate and so careful, and the result of his care was one of my best-ever sandwich experiences.
I know this image doesn’t represent the depth of sandwich perfection that went on here, but I do not care. There needs to be a public record of it, and so: this picture.
I sat on a wooden trunk to the side, as far away from the thick crowd as I could get, while Tom wandered solo, sifting through dozens of options unavailable to my pescetarian self. I closed my eyes to enjoy the many layers of my sandwich, garnished by the hum of unfamiliar accents and wafts of food smell representing a fairly large part of the planet.
Tom opted for the falafel. He chose wisely, as the stand basically looked like Falafel in Heaven. I mean, come on.
To finish, he got coffee made of beans that were ROASTED BEFORE OUR VERY EYES in a tiny, tiny skillet.
We got a variety sack of tablet to go. I had heard of tablet, but all I knew was that it was something between fudge and cake. It’s crumbly and sweet and pleasant… and they sell grab bags that are far too large for two humans to finish in any reasonable amount of time. But it was worth it for the experience – and to reward the good souls that put together this freakishly perfect little tablet stand.
Here’s what I would do differently on a day like that, knowing what I know now.
- I would not have eaten breakfast at a coffee shop. I would have had the smallest morning snack possible, just enough to keep myself from getting a headache.
- I would instead have breakfast at said food stalls, have a good wander and buy something unnecessary, and then come back and have lunch at said food stalls.
- I might find something else to do in the area, allowing me to return to have a third meal at said food stalls.
- I would have organized a tag-team style plan, wherein Tom and I could have shared three dishes at each go around and thus tried more things.
However, I did fine. I wouldn’t trade the experience of that perfect, perfect sandwich for anything.
Although I wouldn’t have minded augmenting it with this, had I the belly capacity.
Adios, three-foot-diameter paella pan. I will see you again someday.
**My companion, naturally, had some dubiousness about this, and so opted to try something he was more likely to enjoy.
P.S. This post is brought to you by Hugo House’s 30/30 challenge. I’m writing at least 30 minutes a day all month. I post my favorite sentences of the day on Twitter. Please donate! I’ll keep writing regardless, but you’ll be encouraging me and supporting a great Seattle institution.